Our reading this week takes us on a journey through the final kings of Judah and into the exile to Babylon. This last week we read about the fall of Israel and we’re left wondering if Judah will see their demise and learn from them or not. Well…they don’t. Hezekiah sets Judah back in a good direction but the rest are bad with the exception of Josiah, who found the Torah tucked away in the Temple somewhere and rigorously brought back covenant living. Here’s a quick list of kings to put these stories into perspective:
Hezekiah Good 29 years II Kings 18:1 II Chronicles 29:1
Manasseh Bad 55 years II Kings 21:1 II Chronicles 33:1
Amon Bad 2 years II Kings 21:19II Chronicles 33:21
Josiah Good 31 years II Kings 22:1 II Chronicles 34:1
Jehoahaz Bad 3 months II Kings 23:31II Chronicles 36:1
Jehoiakim Bad 11 years II Kings 23:36II Chronicles 36:4
Jehoiakin Bad 3 months II Kings 24:6 II Chronicles 36:9
Zedekiah Bad 11 years II Kings 24:17II Chronicles 36:11
Manasseh was the worst of them. He instituted child sacrifices and even sacrificed his own son. He was carried off by the Assyrians and cried out to the LORD for help. The LORD responds to his repentance! The Lord is a God of grace, even in the Old Testament. But, things don’t last long as they move closer and closer to Babylonian exile. Jeremiah and Ezekiel enter the picture with the last three kings (Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah were with the previous four kings).
Jeremiah, a priest, lived and worked in Jerusalem during the final decades of the kingdom of southern Judah. He was called as a prophet to warn Israel about the severe consequences of breaking their covenant with God through idolatry and injustice. He even prophesied about Babylon being an instrument of God to bring judgment by destroying Jerusalem and carrying off the people into exile. He lived through the siege and destruction of Jerusalem and witnessed the exile personally.
His prophesy was both to the people of God and to the nations. His words were intended not only uproot and tear down but to also plant and build up. This means that his message of destruction comes with a message of hope for the future as well. Jeremiah leans heavily on adultery language to address the problem of idolatry. Prostitution. Promiscuity. Unfaithfulness. Adultery is what the people are doing. The priests, the kings, and even other prophets have all become corrupt. What is the tragic result of idolatry? Rampant social injustice. The most vulnerable people in Israelite communities, the widows, the orphans, the immigrants were all being taken advantage of, in clear violation of the laws of the Torah. The leaders of the nation don’t even care because this demographic of people are a drain on society. God told Jeremiah (5:1) to walk the streets of Jerusalem to try and find one good person who deals honestly and seeks truth and God will spare Jerusalem. How far gone are God’s people? He is comparing them to Sodom and Gomora!
Ezekiel was a priest living in Jerusalem during the first Babylonian attack on the city. Ezekiel was among the first group taken into exile and the book of Ezekiel begins five years after that. On his 30th birthday (a lot of scholars believe), Ezekiel was sitting on the bank of an irrigation canal near his refugee camp when he had a vision from God. His 30th birthday is the year he would have been installed as a priest in Jerusalem but instead, God installs him as a priest in exile and a prophet.
Ezekiel’s vision: He sees a storm cloud approaching. And then inside the cloud are four strange creatures with wings outstretched and touching each other. Each creature had four faces. There were four wheels. One by each creature. Their touching wings were supporting a dazzling platform. There was a throne on the platform and on the throne, was a human-like creature glowing and shrouded in fire. Suddenly, Ezekiel realizes what he is seeing and calls it, “the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD.” It's God riding His royal throne chariot. The images in this vision are very similar to what happened when God appeared on Mount Sinai in Exodus and similar to the depictions of God’s presence over the Ark of the Covenant. What is so amazing about this scene? God is supposed to be in the temple in Jerusalem. What is God’s presence doing in Babylon? God gives Ezekiel his prophetic instruction. He will not only speak the words of God but he will also have to act out divine prophecy in his life in some really weird ways. God sends him on this mission with the assurance that no one will listen to him. In Ezekiel 8-11, he has another vision. This time it is of the Temple. Everyone is worshipping other gods inside and outside of the Temple. God has been pushed out and Ezekiel sees the presence of God moving eastward towards Babylon. God continues not to give up on His people and He follows them into exile.
Have you picked up on the rhythm of the Story yet? From the very beginning God has called His people to draw close to Him, they walked away, and God continued after them. There are seasons in relationships. Sometimes you feel close and sometimes not so much. I believe it is healthy to go through the ebbs and flows of relationship with God. I’m not saying that it is good to turn to idol worship. It is essential to have your thumb on the pulse of your relationship with God to recognize when you need to draw closer and deeper in relationship with Him. If your relationship hasn’t changed in the last 10 years, maybe your idle worship has become idol worship? Be ever increasing in your walk with God and let Him transform you. In the words of John the Baptist (John 3:30), “He must increase, I must decrease.”